Penn State has dominated college wrestling since the day Cael Sanderson arrived in Happy Valley.
This might finally be the year that someone other than the Nittany Lions wins the national title.
Iowa, Minnesota and Cornell are among the teams poised to break Penn State’s four-year stranglehold on the NCAA championship. The Nittany Lions lost a pair of national champions in David Taylor and Ed Ruth and are redshirting two All-Americans in Nico Megaludis and Zain Retherford.
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Penn State was ranked fifth in the first regular-season USA Today/NWCA Division I Coaches Poll released on Tuesday.
The Hawkeyes and Gophers lead the rankings, followed by Cornell and Ohio State.
”Overall our program has a strong foundation, strongest it has ever been,” Sanderson said. ”Obviously we lost Ruth and Taylor…you don’t replace guys like that. You just have to find new attitude, new talent and guys that want to be successful.”
Coach Tom Brands brought Iowa back into national prominence with three straight NCAA titles from 2008-10. The resurgent Hawkeyes could end up being the biggest beneficiary of Penn State’s rebuilding efforts.
Iowa returns four All-Americans: Cory Clark (125 pounds), Mike Evans (174), Nathan Burak (197) and heavyweight Bobby Telford. The Hawkeyes also bring back Nick Moore, who stumbled late last season but could be considered a dark horse in the 165-pound class that Taylor dominated a year ago.
”The one thing you see with him is that he’s training this year angry and alone, and there’s a lot to that,” Brands said of Moore. ”There were days where it’s the dog days of summer and you’d be driving (on campus) and here he is pulling that hill in full sweats and a stocking cap and it’s 95 degrees. That’s things that you don’t coach into guys.”
Iowa opens its season Saturday, but its first major test will come on Nov. 29 against rival Iowa State.
Minnesota will likely be Iowa’s biggest challenger for Big Ten and national supremacy. The Gophers return star brothers Nick and Chris Dardanes and three top-ranked individuals in Dylan Ness (157), Logan Storley (174) and Scott Schiller (197), according to WIN magazine.
Gabe Dean headlines a talented roster at Cornell, which finished seventh at last year’s NCAA meet. Dean, a sophomore, is No. 1 at 184 pounds, while Nashshon Garrett is poised for another shot at Illinois star Jesse Delgado after losing to him 3-2 in the national championship match in March.
Ohio State’s Logan Steiber is the heavy favorite at 141 pounds and could become the first four-time NCAA champion in Buckeyes history. Logan’s little brother, Hunter, is also a serious contender at 149 pounds. But Ohio State doesn’t appear to have the depth to match Iowa or Minnesota.
Edinboro’s A.J. Schoop (133) is a two-time All-American looking to add a national title to his resume. Northwestern’s Jason Tsirtsis will go for his second national championship at 149 pounds, and teammate Mike McMullan is the top-ranked heavyweight in the country.
Oklahoma State’s Alex Dieringer has moved up to 165 pounds after beating Ness in last year’s 157-pound title match.
The Hawkeyes could have trouble holding onto the top spot during the regular season because their schedule might be the toughest in the country.
Iowa has road dual meets at Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Penn State. Sanderson’s young wrestlers should be much improved when it hosts the Hawkeyes in State College on Feb. 8 – a dual meet that’s already sold out.
The Hawkeyes don’t have anyone who’s predicted to win an individual NCAA title either. But they’re as deep as any team in the country, and that brutal schedule should have them ready for the NCAA meet in St. Louis in late March.
”That’s number one. Getting back on top of the heap,” Brands said.
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